Canadian singer-songwriter Travis Bretzer dreams up a wistful set of mildly psychedelic guitar pop for his debut album.
In the midst of such a narrowly-scoped genre as garage rock, an artist’s biggest challenge is in setting his or herself apart. Canadian singer-songwriter Travis Bretzer, having just released his debut full-length Waxing Romantic, is still in the process of struggling through that phase. After all, taking wistful guitar pop and lacing it with the spacey sonics of psychedelic, the sultry melodies of glam, and the independent sensibility of garage rock hardly gives much room for fresh interpretation. Thankfully, though, Bretzer knows how to write a song; listen to the beautifully infectious hooks of songs like “Lady Red” and “Promises” swim out of their rich verses and try not to be charmed. It seems, like so many songwriters of our time, Travis Bretzer is a talented artist in need of a singular identity.
Consequently, it’s hard not to place Waxing Romantic in the context of the contemporary psychedelic and garage rock resurgence. Bretzer does fit that mold, but his light, smokey emotionality has more in common with Toro y Moi or Real Estate than Ty Segall or Tame Impala, layering his mournful chord progressions with dreamy levels of chorus and reverb as he poignantly grasps at youthful folly in his lyrics. He’s less fully ingrained in tradition and more inspired by it — a descendent rather than a direct emulator.
But even with all that well-wrought territory, Bretzer covers a surprising amount of novel stylistic terrain on Waxing Romantic: “Lonely Heart” alternates between twangy slide guitar and fuzzy, groovy riffs taken from the Marc Bolan playbook, “Story Book” echoes with dramatic synth pads indebted to the New Romantic era of pop music, and “Don’t Forget” merges the psychedelic melodics of Sgt. Pepper with ‘50s slow dance rock ‘n’ roll. Bretzer is no innovator, but his whimsical sense of the uncanny feeds Waxing Romantic much of its offbeat charm.
As a songwriter, Bretzer follows a more conventional path with his lyrics, speaking in platitudes and banalities that come off as half-ironic. It’s telling that the album opens with “Giving Up”, in which Bretzer sings a less-than-reassuring hook — “I’m broke and beat, I’ve had enough, I’m tired of acting tough / Oh, I’m giving up” — and then one song later, on the floaty “Idle By”, he preaches the opposite: “Wait, don’t ever let go / Stay, don’t ever say no.” His sense for youthful whimsy seeps out of every second of the record, but the cliches (“All my life, I’ve been waiting, baby,” “Wasting my days / Wishin’ away,” etc.) too often fail to connect on the same level. Of course, the album’s title does suggest a tongue-in-cheek element, and with the sentimental, wistful nature of the music, it’s certainly plausible. That vulnerable ambiguity just may be the singular element that sets Bretzer apart from so many of his similar-sounding contemporaries, lending the music, for all its vintage decadence, a vitality, and a buoyant spontaneity. Either way, Waxing Romantic simmers with nostalgic grace from front to back, and even if it’s ultimately made disposable from its over-familiarity, it’s a promising landmark for Bretzer’s future artistry.